Formula 1 on BBC or Sky? Head-to-Head Ranking the Commentators and Experts

Oliver Harden@@OllieHardenFeatured ColumnistMarch 27, 2014

Formula 1 on BBC or Sky? Head-to-Head Ranking the Commentators and Experts

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    Although the Malaysian Grand Prix represents the resumption of what is sure to be a fascinating 2014 Formula One season, the event also sees Sepang restart one of the most thrilling battles of recent times.

    Nico Rosberg versus Lewis Hamilton, you say? Fernando Alonso versus Sebastian Vettel?

    No: Sky versus the BBC.

    2014 is the third season of both broadcasters' controversial shared F1 rights television deal and the Malaysian Grand Prix is the first time this season that Sky and the BBC broadcast live.

    In true F1 2014-spec style, the BBC have undergone a few changes over the winter, while Sky have entered the new season with much of the same framework that ended the last campaign on top.

    Here, we rank the line-ups of both broadcasters, judging each individual by their comfort on screen, their relationship with their colleagues, their contribution and their overall influence on their respective programmes.

    Essentially, we're asking this: If F1 ceased to exist and all these people were to lose their jobs, who would we miss most? 

14. Suzi Perry

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    Since replacing Jake Humphrey as the BBC’s F1 anchor in 2013, Suzi Perry has struggled to fill the boots of her predecessor.

    She lacks the authority and composure on screen of Humphrey, sometimes stumbling her way through questions, and she has been unable to replicate the camaraderie with main pundits David Coulthard and Eddie Jordan.

    The Top Gear-style relationship between Humphrey, Coulthard and Jordan, after all, is what made the Beeb’s coverage between 2009 and 2012 so entertaining to watch.

    Despite her best efforts, Perry—not helped by the BBC’s broadcasting of only half the races live—cannot shake off the tag as a MotoGP presenter lost in a F1 world.

13. Simon Lazenby

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    After a shaky start of Romain Grosjean proportions in 2012, when he was rejected by viewers for not being Jake Humphrey, Simon Lazenby has recovered well to establish himself as Sky’s main presenter.

    His rapport with Johnny Herbert and Damon Hill, his chief allies over a race weekend, is solid and allows for a relaxed atmosphere. This is particularly evident during the post-race Paddock Live programme when the formalities of the weekend are done and dusted and the paddock begins to unwind.

    Lazenby has also contributed to a handful of entertaining features for Sky, with a pre-season piece with Sebastian Vettel and Daniel Ricciardo capturing the Red Bull team-mates at their most charming.

    Although critics remain—despite his efforts to privately contact them via social media—Lazenby has perfected the role as somebody whom you now barely notice during the weekend’s coverage—something that Humphrey and Suzi Perry, for very different reasons, failed to do.

12. Damon Hill

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    When Sky were putting together their punditry line-up back in 2011, the thought of signing Damon Hill was quite a good one.

    Here is a relatively recent world champion, one half of the only father-son world champions in history, a man who went head-to-head with Michael Schumacher and someone who—as a former president of the British Racing Drivers Club—has a strong understanding of the sport’s business side.

    Hill has so much expertise and insight to offer, but this rarely comes across in his rather rigid punditry.

    The signs were there even when Hill stepped into the commentary box in Martin Brundle’s absence for the Hungarian Grand Prix, in the days of ITV’s F1 coverage, that the 1996 world champion, although a gentleman, is the ultimate fence-sitter.

11. Johnny Herbert

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    Johnny Herbert’s bubbly nature has helped to bring Damon Hill out of his shell and is therefore, strangely, quite an important part of Sky’s coverage.

    His “pally” relationship with drivers—no doubt helped by his status as a former racer himself—has frequently led to the production of insightful interviews.

    The problem for Herbert, though, is that he runs the terrifying risk of becoming Sky’s answer to Mark Blundell.

    As a regular guest on The F1 Show and now an ever-present figure on Sky’s race weekend coverage, there is rarely a week that goes by that viewers are not forced into listening to Herbert’s views. That would be fine if he were a pundit in football, for example, where matches occur within days of each other. But in F1, where races are often separated by several weeks, it soon gets repetitive and tiresome.

    Herbert is living proof that you can have too much of a good thing.

10. Lee McKenzie

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    Despite being unfortunate to miss out on the main BBC presenter’s role to Suzi Perry, Lee McKenzie is probably better off where she belongs.

    While her stand-in performances have been composed over the years, in the thick of the action of the media pen is where McKenzie is at her brilliant best.

    This was, of course, most evident following the 2013 Hungarian Grand Prix, when she savagely wrestled words out of Fernando Alonso’s mouth regarding his career plans before pushing the usually chirpy Sebastian Vettel into a corner to explain why he wouldn’t be keen on having Alonso as a team-mate.

    Such brutal, direct questioning is to be admired in F1, although McKenzie’s ranking is harmed by the Beeb’s apparent unwillingness to use her in a wider role.

9. David Croft

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    Like Johnny Herbert, David Croft’s likeable personality makes Sky’s lead commentator a link between the media, the drivers and teams and—perhaps most significantly—the fans.

    The #AskCrofty Q&A Twitter sessions run by Sky after every grand prix provides an important link between the station and its viewers, although little is gained from them and they tend to rather irritatingly clog up your timeline.

    In the commentary box, Croft has formed a cohesive partnership with Martin Brundle, although he can be guilty of wandering off topic on occasion. Also, you cannot shake the feeling that Croft commentates with next week’s montage in mind, with his delivery often coming across as unnatural and forced.

    No goosebumps here, unfortunately.

8. Allan McNish

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    Although Allan McNish is yet to complete a live grand prix since signing as a full-time member of the BBC’s team in January, his previous work with Sky suggests he will be a valuable addition to their ranks.

    A fascinating speaker, he has contributed to Sky’s free-practice coverage to good effect, mastered the Sky Pad and has freshened up the stale punditry line-up whenever he has joined the pay-per-view channel in the past.

    For someone who last competed in an F1 race in 2002, McNish—like all great pundits—is always worth listening to.

7. Natalie Pinkham

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    Despite being as annoying as a Channel 4 presenter at times, Natalie Pinkham is seriously good at her job.

    Although not as penetrative as Lee McKenzie, her BBC counterpart, Pinkham’s equally effective approach almost sees her adopt the role of a driver’s little sister, capturing her interviewees in a unique light.

    Her ice-racing feature with Kimi Raikkonen at the beginning of 2013, for example, broke the ice with the 2007 world champion and exposed the enigmatic Finn’s light-hearted personality. Contrast that to Raikkonen’s interview with McKenzie, which you can watch here, and you see the Iceman at his coldest.

    Pinkham’s interview in Melbourne with Jenson Button on the death of his father, meanwhile, was respectful and warm without being intrusive.

    Her work in the media pen, her excellent features and contribution to The F1 Show sees her just edge over McKenzie.

6. Anthony Davidson

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    After spending a former life as a co-commentator for the BBC’s practice coverage, Anthony Davidson has emerged as something of a hidden gem at Sky.

    A former grand prix driver with strong links to the Brackley-based Mercedes team, Davidson offers clean, short and informative insights into on-track incidents with the help of the Sky Pad touchscreen device.

    His eye for detail is at times astonishing, highlighting the exact points of a qualifying lap which cost a driver pole position by a fraction of a second, or dissecting the causes of a crash.

    The most impressive thing about Davidson, though? He can actually use that Sky Pad without the help of Georgie Thompson.

5. David Coulthard

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    After plunging himself into punditry almost immediately after hanging up his F1 helmet, David Coulthard has learnt on the job but has grown to be the main man as far as the BBC is concerned.

    The Scot’s enthusiasm does not seem to have been dampened despite his employer’s loss of exclusive television rights and he has developed into a strong co-commentator and handy grid-walker.

    His popularity and links to Red Bull and McLaren—not to mention his 13 career wins and 246 grand prix starts—make Coulthard, apart from Sky’s Damon Hill, the most qualified driver on either punditry line-up to share his views with the public.

4. Ben Edwards

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    The BBC had to persevere with Jonathan Legard and experiment with Martin Brundle beforehand, but their capture of Ben Edwards at the beginning of 2012 was a case of better late than never.

    Unlike David Croft, his Sky counterpart, Edwards’ contagious passion for the sport is clearly visible through his voice alone. Some may argue that the former British Touring Car Championship commentator’s style is less suited to the perhaps duller nature of F1 compared to the action-packed BTCC, but Edwards is the type of commentator who can make a boring race seem exciting.

    Furthermore, his style is the type that can suddenly turn casual, flicking-through-the-channels-on-a-Sunday-afternoon fans into hardcore F1 nuts.

    In other words, just what the BBC would want.

3. Eddie Jordan

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    Horrendous shirts and aimless rants are probably the first things that come to mind when you think of Eddie Jordan’s punditry.

    But it’s all too easy to forget that behind the comedy character that is David Coulthard’s favourite sparring partner—brilliant viewing in itself—lies a highly intelligent, successful insider.

    His scoop that Lewis Hamilton would join Mercedes for 2013 was one of the defining stories of the 2012 season, while the Irishman’s connections led to him almost perfectly predicting the drivers who would make up the 2014 grid months ahead of its completion.

    Those connections make Jordan a valuable asset to the BBC which makes his bouts of apparent unprofessionalism—such as disappearing from view only to return with the team principal of Ferrari by his side and ready to chat—all the more worthwhile.

    In fact, the only thing that denies Jordan top spot is the fact that he no longer attends races which the BBC do not cover live.

    Although, considering that the Beeb only have a couple of hours to play with in their highlights packages, it’s probably just as well that Jordan doesn’t turn up.

2. Ted Kravitz

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    The biggest compliment you can pay Ted Kravitz is to suggest that, if this list was compiled in the pre-Sky era, he would have been ranked at the very bottom. It is nothing short of criminal how first ITV and then the BBC underused him.

    Under both of his previous employers, Kravitz would be the bloke who’d yelp in the pit lane during a stop and would occasionally join the pundits to hurriedly explain the procedure of a post-race stewards’ investigation.    

    With more freedom and time to play with at Sky, however, he has come into his own.

    His happy-go-lucky Ted’s Notebook roundup show is Sky’s greatest programme, presenting technical, detailed information—something which the BBC has always desperately lacked—in an innovative, hilarious and understandable style.

    Kravitz’s work with Sky extends to The F1 Show, features, interviews and frequent appearances on Sky Sports News, making him central to Sky’s coverage.

1. Martin Brundle

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    If you were to ask a non-Sky subscriber what they miss most about the good old days when F1 was free-to-air, the majority would begin with Martin Brundle.

    Sky’s F1 channel is based on his vision and Brundle’s work with the broadcaster saw him drive a Ferrari at Fiorano, a world championship-winning Red Bull and Lewis Hamilton’s 2008 title-winning McLaren in just his opening two years with the outlet.

    His influence has seen him combining his commentary and grid-walk duties with trackside observations and appearances as a pundit.

    If this were another member of either Sky or the BBC—who used to throw Brundle in a dark room with nothing but a TV for company to deliver post-race “analysis”—you might be turned away by the added exposure.

    But because it’s Brundle, because his insight and thoughts are so compelling and so worth listening to, we listen.

    A national treasure.